Gradually the world is coming to terms with the fact that being over 50 does not involve “life, but not as we know it”. Nowhere is this more relevant than in the realm of computer and internet knowledge and usage and, thankfully, we are beginning to see the end of terms such as “silver surfers” and “cyber wrinklies”. They will soon go the same way as “blue rinse brigade” and “grey pound”.
A recent poll of 3500 people over the age of 60, conducted by the networking site “alljoinon” provides a whole range of information showing just how much older people are wedded to the web and what they use the technology for. The average time people spend surfing the web is a staggering 2 hours per day.
But consider the notion in more detail and it doesn’t seem staggering at all. Older people have more time and, possibly, less mobility than their younger counterparts. They have been brought up used to being patient, to reading and to considering matters before making decisions. And we, in our prime, are not the confused old buffoons that the younger generation take us for. We can read instructions and we have as much (or as little) chance as the vast majority of youngsters at grappling with the inner workings of the machinery.
But the uses are virtually limitless: emailing to family or to friends far away; making business or social arrangements or running clubs or societies; shopping online, conveniently and at the best prices; arranging holidays; pursuing hobbies; photography; social networking; keeping mentally alert with quizzes and games such as chess and bridge; downloading music; obtaining medical and financial information and so on. In fact, as the survey found, once aboard it would leave a large hole in older people’s lives if it was taken away.
Furthermore, a survey for the credit card protection firm CPP showed that older users, in this particular case 45-54, are a lot more cautious and savvy than their younger brethren when it comes to online security. “It is surprising that young people take the most risks online, where you might assume that they would be much more ‘web aware’ than the internet’s older users,” said CPP identity theft expert, Danny Harrison.
He advised website users planning a transaction to check web pages were secure by looking for the padlock symbol in the right hand corner of the web page. The internet address prefix “https” should also help protect card details, he said.
And when it comes setting up our computers or fixing them when they go wrong then, if we can’t resolve it ourselves, we must treat the situation in much the same way as any other domestic problem – car, plumbing, electrics – we must be prepared to call in a specialist. There are now a number of readily accessible firms in existence, as recently reported in the Times (“Computer geeks to the rescue”).
The messages are there for all to see and not just for those who have retired. Those over 50 seeking employment must make sure that their skills are continually honed; otherwise they won’t be attractive prospects to employers. Advertisers must start to realise the enormous potential of the over 50s population and change their whole approach to the design and focus of web material. And individuals and government must start to realise the potential dangers of a two-tier society with regard to computer accessibility. A recent USA survey acknowledged that online ageism does indeed exist and needs to be addressed.
Unlike those that we might currently consider to be truly elderly, the present generation of in my primers will move into their later years well-equipped in the ways of modern technology which will become more and more part of our everyday lives. The European Parliament has, just this month, voted to devote 150 million euros over the next five years to a new research programme known as “ambient-assisted living”. The move is intended to help people live more independent lives in their old age. The 27-nation bloc’s ageing population will see a nearly 40 percent jump in the number of people aged 65 or older between 2010 and 2030, the European Commission has said.
“We need to make the Internet more accessible and make training available and allow elderly people to stay socially connected and to perform daily activities which can be facilitated, such as shopping, paying bills and making appointments,” said parliament member Neena Gill of Britain.
The European Commission hopes the research into information technology for older people will foster telemedicine, where people obtain a diagnosis and other medical advice online, and other aids such as turning all but one light off when going to bed. Technology can also be used to check for water and gas leaks and making sure windows and doors are locked when leaving the house.
And so I say a hearty “Hi Yo Silver (surfer)!”